Better Understand the Crisis
Following the 2002 reporting by the Boston Globe, the US bishops commissioned a study, run independently by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The study had a number of findings on the nature and scope of the abuse, and was followed up by a second study published in 2011 on the causes and contexts of clerical abuse of minors. Contribute to grounded and research-backed discussions by learning more about the report here! Below you'll find information pulled from the multi-year study, covering every diocese in the United States and thousands of priests.
*Note: the findings of this study derive largely from self-reporting by dioceses and would thus be subject to the level of openness, honesty, and transparency of diocesan leaders. Nonetheless, the researchers found that the information concerning abuse was consistent with other research in this area. In terms of mass analysis, this study currently represents the best data on the question of clerical abuse of minors.
A Historical Phenomenon
Most people don't know that the amount of abuse incidents has had a specific shape. The annual count of incidents increased steadily from 1950 through the 1970s and then began to decline sharply at or about 1985, with the decline continuing through 2002.
But this doesn't mean we don't have an ongoing crisis, in terms of how allegations are shared, reported, and investigated. And even if fewer abuse incidents occur, they still do occur and require addressing.
Pedophilia, Homosexuality, and Celibacy
Pedophilia and Ephebophilia
Only a minority of priest abusers could be classified as pedophiles (2%) or ephebophiles (10.8%). The majority of abusers were "generalists," meaning that they didn't specialize in any single type of victim. This is consistent with the finding that abuse tends to be more about access, power, and opportunity than about orientation and attraction.
The increase of "homosexual men" in seminaries in the late 1970s and 1980s did not correlate with increased abuse. Rather, the report found that they correlated with a decreased incidence of abuse.
Three-fourths of priests had a clear sense of their sexual identity prior to seminary. One-quarter of the priests understood their identity as homosexual or bisexual. Priests who identified as homosexual, as well as those who participated in same-sex sexual behavior prior to ordination (regardless of sexual identity), were not significantly more likely to abuse minors than priests who identified as heterosexual. Accused priests (63%) were less likely than non-accused (83%) to have a clear articulation of sexual identity. Confusion about sexual identity was particularly notable for those priests ordained before the 1970's.
Priests with positive views toward homosexuality were most likely to have post-ordination sexual behavior, followed by those with a negative view and then those with a neutral view. But those with positive views were more likely to have adult, rather than minor, sexual partners. Priests with negative views toward homosexuality were more likely (but not significantly) to have minor victims than those with positive or neutral views.
No correlation was found between the requirement of celibacy and the incidence of abuse.
In-Seminary Sexual Behavior
Priests who participated in sexual behavior while in seminary were more likely to have post-ordination sexual behavior, though their partners were more likely to be adults.
For same-sex sexual behavior, only in-seminary (not pre-seminary) same-sex sexual behavior was significantly related to post-ordination sexual behavior. Priests who had engaged in in-seminary same-sex sexual behavior were more likely to have sexual experiences with adults, and they were not significantly more likely to sexually abuse minors than priests with no same-sex sexual behavior in seminary.
Identifying Likely Abusers
The report found that the priest-abuser population was a heterogenous group, meaning that it is not possible to identify most potential abusers with traditional psychological assessments or through any single motive, characteristic, or experience. However, it is possible to reduce opportunities for abuse through appropriate training, education, and support.